Bernice Tannenbaum, Who Fought U.N. Resolution on Zionism, Dies at 101

April 10, 2015

By SAM ROBERTS

April 9, 2015

Bernice S. Tannenbaum, a former president of Hadassah who played a leading role in the fight against a United Nations resolution in the 1980s equating Zionism with racism, died on Monday at her home in Manhattan. She was 101.

Her death was confirmed by her granddaughter Ellen Salpeter.

Ms. Tannenbaum expanded Hadassah, also known as the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, by creating Hadassah International and by enlisting men as members, to focus mostly on the Hadassah Medical Organization.

In “It Takes a Dream: The Story of Hadassah” (1997), Marlin Levin wrote that Ms. Tannenbaum led a five-member delegation that met with President Ronald Reagan for 40 minutes over tea, coffee and cookies at the White House on Aug. 16, 1984, to lobby against the resolution linking Zionism and racism.

The United Nations adopted the resolution, defining Zionism as “a form of racism and racial discrimination,” in 1975. A similar statement was included in an annex to a report to be considered at the final conference of the United Nations Decade for Women in 1985 in Nairobi, Kenya.

“Bernice asked Reagan to publicly repudiate the U.N. resolution,” Mr. Levin wrote. “He agreed and promised that the U.S. delegation would walk out of Nairobi if the Zionism-equals-racism resolution was included in the final conference declaration.”

Ms. Tannenbaum persuaded the United States Senate to condemn the conference resolution, which was sponsored by the Soviet Union, and demand its withdrawal.

Carrying a draft of the Senate resolution, she flew to Nairobi, where Maureen Reagan, the president’s daughter and head of the American delegation, repeated the president’s threat to withdraw from the conference. Kenya brokered a compromise in which Zionism was omitted from the final conference report.

In 1991, the United Nations General Assembly repealed its 1975 resolution.

Bernice Annette Franklin was born in Brooklyn on Nov. 6, 1913. Her father, Isadore, was a furniture dealer. Her mother, the former Mae Bisgyer, worked in the store.

After graduating from Richmond Hill High School, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature and art at Brooklyn College. She worked as a public high school teacher and wrote advertising copy part time.

Her first husband, Hyman Salpeter, a committed Zionist, died in 1969. Her second, Nathan Tannenbaum, died in 1991. She is survived by three grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Ms. Tannenbaum was an enrolled member of Hadassah in 1944 when she was invited to an apartment in Kew Gardens, Queens, by neighbors who wanted to form a local chapter.

She was stunned when a national board member at the meeting appointed her the chapter’s president. She would spend two-thirds of her life with the organization.

She became president of the Long Island region and was national president from 1976 to 1980. In 1982 she was elected chairwoman of the American section of the World Zionist Organization, and in 2000 she was a spokeswoman for Hadassah’s campaign to achieve nongovernmental organization consultative status before the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

In 2003, when Ms. Tannenbaum received Hadassah’s highest honor, the Henrietta Szold Award, she said that she had no plans to retire. She continued attending monthly meetings until November 2014, always saying the issues that drove her to join the organization remained as relevant as ever.

“I believe that no generation can take a vacation from history,” she said.

Originally published by The New York Times